Governmental body responsible for temples say revenue dropped to $30 million in 2008, blaming downturn amid accusations of corruption
Photo by: Tracey Shelton
A view of Angkor Wat. The government says that the tourism slowdown has led to less revenue from ticket sales.
ANGKOR Wat ticket sales dropped almost 10 percent in 2008, said Bun Narith, deputy director of Apsara Authority, the government institute that handles revenue from the attraction, blaming a tourism downturn despite criticism that figures have been manipulated due to corruption.
Revenue from ticket sales dropped to about US$30 million last year from roughly $32 million in 2007, he added. However, uncertainty surrounds the data given that Apsara and tycoon Sok Kong's Sokimex, which owns Sokha Hotels - the organisations that receive revenue from Angkor Wat - have refused to release detailed, concrete figures, critics say.
Explaining the situation, Bun Narith told the Post: "I have not received the exact figures from the Ministry of Economy and Finance and Sokimex," he said, refusing to provide details on their revenue-sharing agreement. Sok Kong was unavailable Tuesday, his assistant Seng Chanthy said, adding that the person responsible for Angkor Wat ticketing was "on holiday".
Khmer-language daily Koh Santepheap reported on January 13 that the first $3 million in Angkor Wat revenue is split 50-50 between Sokimex and Apsara. Of additional revenue, 15 percent goes to restoration and development at Angkor, 68 percent to Apsara's operating costs and 17 percent to Sokimex.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yim Sovann raised doubts about the figures. "The drop is caused by corruption," he said. "There is no transparency. The number of tourists increased, but ticket revenue dropped," he added, arguing that most tourists to Cambodia visit Angkor Wat and therefore increased numbers would surely lead to higher revenue at the temples.
Independent tourism analyst Moeung Son also doubted the numbers: "Thong Khon, the minister of tourism, changed his mind ... about the revenue decline in 2008. He used to say that the number of tourists increased 5.48 percent this year [in 2008] which is equal to 2.12 million tourists [in total], even though the actual figure did not match ministry expectations."
In April 1999, the government gave Sokimex a 10-year concession on revenue from Angkor Wat ticket sales as part of an agreement to cooperate with Apsara Authority. Critics say it is time the government ended the monopoly, with Yim Sovann suggesting that tourist figures pointed to total revenue closer to $60 million per year.
"If the government conducted a fair and public bidding process ... we would earn more revenue from this, but the government always solely approves Sokimex Company. That is corruption," he said, citing Sokimex ties to the CPP.
Moeung Son agreed there should be an open tender process: "The government has to give private companies an opportunity to bid for the concession for Angkor Wat," he said.